People don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty. They drink the sand because they don’t know the difference. — President Andrew Shepherd in the film American President
The day former governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated, I was down with high fever. Somehow I managed to pull myself together and conducted my show on the tragedy. While religious scholars were readily available to talk about the matter, I felt that moderates were visibly reluctant to speak on the subject. Every moderate and liberal friend I spoke to told me it was the end of free speech and liberal space in Pakistan. The behaviour of leaders from the ruling PPP, a party to which the slain governor belonged, also pointed in the same direction. There was no rush of sympathy or outpouring of support as one would have expected. In fact, a few weeks later, when we visited India, the likes of M J Akbar lectured us to our great chagrin on how the situation in Pakistan was hopeless owing to the absence of secularism. Somebody also claimed that the assassin of the governor would not even be tried.
More recently, when terrorists attacked and killed schoolchildren in Peshawar, it only exacerbated my crisis of faith. As a father, I became reluctant to send my children to school. When the schools reopened, I spent most of the day in my car outside their school. You would have forgotten Minerva McGonagall sitting outside Number 4 Privet Drive to catch a glimpse of Harry Potter had you seen me that day. That is how bad my crisis of faith was back then. A few words of consolation coming from politicians felt hollow as we had seen them struggling in front of Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri’s sit-in. I would have made this a daily routine had I not come across the sight of the army chief at the gate of APS Peshawar to welcome the children back to school and a video song produced by ISPR titled “Bara dushman bana phirta hai” towards the end of which a headmistress welcomes children back to school.
When memory plays tricks, it makes us forget how helpless we were just over a year ago. And yet, some of our worthy intellectuals — yeah, our friends who think only they have the key to the kingdom come — refuse to see the reality. If you praise General Raheel Sharif today, it automatically seems to mean you must have praised General Kayani when he was in uniform and Musharraf too. Plain sycophancy in other words. But while I cannot be accused of praising the general-president much, being one of his constant critics, I did write a piece praising Kayani the day he was retiring. The man oversaw the first civilian-to-civilian democratic transition so how could I not? After his retirement, when on the occasion of Youm-e-Shuhda our intellectual friends were about to crush many of us to death in their haste to shake the new chief’s hand, I ran in the opposite direction, found the now retired General Kayani and shook his hand.
Remember, only over a year ago terrorists were picking out the best and brightest among us, one by one, and the two major parties still felt that talking to them was a pretty neat idea. Then Operation Zarb-e-Azb started and all predictions about a devastating backlash fell through. Granted there was the APS Peshawar tragedy, but the scale of the blowback that was being predicted was nowhere in sight. Slowly but steadily, national consensus against terrorism emerged. Since then, the situation has transformed remarkably. And the day the brave judges of the apex Court threw out the objections to the death penalty given to the murderer of Salmaan Taseer, I wanted to look in the eyes of Mr M J Akbar, who has since then become spokesperson for the BJP, a party whose supporters killed a man for allegedly eating beef, and tell him we are not hopeless.
At times, I, too, want to behave like an intellectual and look at everything with contempt. But I did get plenty of opportunities to flout authority when I was a teenager. So friends, you can keep your intellectualism and cynicism. I will keep my faith in the good people who came through for this nation and conclude by saying #ShukriaRaheelSharif.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 10th, 2015.